THINGS TO DO IN COSTA RICA’S CAPITAL, SAN JOSÉ
I’m a real lover of city breaks, absorbing myself in the culture of a cosmopolitan city and its vibes therefore I was super excited to be ending our Costa Rica escapades with 3 nights in San Jose.
A BIT ABOUT THE CITY
San Jose has been quoted as being Latin America’s most safest city and I have to admit we never once felt threatened or intimidated, infact the Costa Rican’s seemed very friendly and accommodating at all times. San Jose is a political, cultural and commercial centre in Costa Rica
San Jose is the country’s largest city, located in the Central Valley. It is about 1150 meters (3770 ft) above sea level. Lucky for us, the weather is warm with temperatures between 17 – 30°C, year round and an average humidity of 68%.
We took a couple of walks into the city, and the place was bursting with culture, with a European influence, it is home to several theatres and museums and the historic centre features several architecturally beautiful old buildings. As the cultural heart of the country, the night life offers a variety of options for entertainment. There are dance clubs, bars, restaurants and cinemas.
The National Symphony Orchestra performs several presentations throughout the year, usually these are held at the National Theatre. There was also a Jazz club we were told about in Escazú, which has raving reviews and is not so far from the Hotel Grano de Oro.
San Jose is located well to access a variety of one-day tours, which is exactly what we did. We incorporated a visit to The Poas National Park to discover Poas volcano and the neighbouring wildlife. But it poured down – apparently it’s very rare to see the volcano. This is something you get used to if you visit Costa Rica. The country sits on a divide so its very usual to get the warm weather of the Caribbean sparring with the Atlantic weather fronts.
We also spent the afternoon of that same day visiting the Doka Estate for a quick lunch and tour of the coffee growing region as it was en route back to San Jose City. After such a adventure filled trip, we decided to spend our evenings in San Jose enjoying our hotel amenities but also taking a walking tour to get an orientation for the city and some local food sampling in the main markets of San Jose. Just to mention all of our day trips were pre-organised by Costa Rica Expeditions and were private.
Here’s what we got up to in San Jose…
POAS VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK
The park is located approximately a 90 minute drive out of town and comprises of an active composite volcano which erupted a number of times between 1955-2017. It is famous for the active crater with smoking fumaroles where you can also see the tree fringed lake. If you enjoy hiking there are a number of trails that will lead you into dwarf and cloud forest in the area. Due to the location and surrounding there is the opportunity to view plenty of wildlife, including a large species of birds (black billed nightingales, hummingbirds, quetzals, emerald toucans and masked woodpeckers) and an opportunity to see plenty of flora such as epiphytes, bromeliads, ferns and mistletoes.
The park itself was created back in 1971 and the protected wildlife area spans from 4,000 feet to 8,860 feet.
There is about an 85% chance of viewing the crater between March-November, however as I mentioned previously it was rainy, cloudy and very dark on the day we went, which is usually how things turn out up there in the cloud forest. The earlier in the day you go the better. We got there at 8am and that is the best time to get a glimpse of the crater. If you don’t see it then the chances of seeing if after this point are pretty non-existent.
Poas Volcano National Park
Following our very rainy time at Poas Volcano and the national park, we arrived at The Doka Estate Coffee Plantation just in time for lunch. The lunch was a basic but delicious Costa Rican lunch and there was plenty of it too with the opportunity to try some of the coffees that are grown and roasted at the estate.
The coffee farm is actually own by a Costa Rican family known as the Vargas Ruiz family and have led in the coffee production business for over 70 years. The tour focused on educating us on the production process, harvesting, and roasting process of coffee.
6 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT COFFEE
- Coffee is actually a fruit and the bean is the seed.
- In Costa Rica, only Arabica coffee is grown by law due to their president removing all Robusta plants many years ago so they could ensure the focus of coffee production in Costa Rica was quality over quantity.
- The Doka estate focus on harvesting coffee rather than roasting it (although they do a small amount for domestic sales)
- Nicaraguan’s are employed during the coffee picking season and given free food and board for the weeks they come over to work. The sole reason for this is that due to the advancement of education and healthcare in Costa Rica, a lot of the populations are well educated and securing higher tier incomes.
- 90% of the Doka Estates coffee beans are bought by Starbucks and roasted in Washington, Seattle. USA.
- Premium grade coffee is dried outside in the sun for 4 days and turned every 40 minutes.
The drying process
Unroasted and Roasted coffee beans
Ready to be shipped to Starbucks for roasting
If coffee beans aren’t your thing, there’s a choice of coffee and chocolate liqueurs on offer
Additionally the Doka Estate has its own Butterfly garden which is home to 15 species of butterflies, including the Monarch, Blue Morpho and Yolk of Sulfur. If you’re a keen butterfly enthusiast, you will know what I’m talking about!
Alajuela Province Alajuela, Poas & the Airport Area
Tel. +506 2449 5152
HISTORICAL SAN JOSÉ WALKING TOUR
To get my fix of the city scene, our stay wouldn’t have been complete without a mooch around the city and the old colonial architectural delights I’d heard about! We met up with our guide, Carla at The National Park, arranged by Costa Rica Expeditions, in the centre of San José and commenced our historical journey of this authentic capital city.
Just some of the marvels we dropped by on our walking route…
The Barrio Amon and Otoya Neighbourhoods
These are located just north of downtown San José and by day, these are historic areas with pretty parks and Amón is said to be one of the few remaining colonial districts in the country containing history rich buildings. In this area you can find some of the last coffee baron mansions, constructed during the late-19th and early-20th centuries in what used to be a coffee plantation belonging to a French Businessman.
In the past, Barrio Amón was an exclusive residential area and home to prominent Costa Ricans like former president Otilio Ulate (1949-1953).
Today, Barrio Amón has become a commercial district where you find restaurants, bars and hotels, in fact many of San José hotels and hostels are located in this part of the city. Including Hemingways Hotel housed in one of these colonial style buildings.
The area also features charming protected works of art in the form of ceramic tiles, depicting stories from the bygone age of Costa Rica, reminding us of it’s beginnings in farming and coffee plantations.
Just one thing to note, if you are planning to stay in the area. By day it’s an absolutely charming example and the epitome of the country however at night parts of Amón transform into a pay-for-pleasure playground. The area does have many nice bars, restaurants and hotels, but just good to bear in mind.
The Yellow House
A former parliamentary building, this is where heads of state and presidential meetings are held to discuss world issues. Most recent visitors include, Barak Obama!
The Yellow House – Casa Amarilla
Avenues 7 and 9 Streets 11 and 13
The Spain Park
A public space since 1862, it was christened Spain Park in 1920, and Spaniards honoured here include Queen Isabel and Juan Vázquez de Coronado, the conquistador who founded several Costa Rican cities in the 16th century. The park is also popular with street musicians – and in the evening, lots of noisy birds.
The Spain Park-Parque de Espana
The Metallic School
The Edificio Metálico (aka the Escuelas Metálicas, Metallic School) was created – from sections of stamped-steel imitation stone – in Belgium upon the request of the Costa Rican government and shipped over to be put together to house a pair of schools named for luminaries of Costa Rican education, Buenaventura Corrales and Julia Lang.
The Metallic School – Escuelas
Metálicas Calle 9
Temple of Music
Built in 1920 in neoclassical style, the most important building in downtown’s Morazán Park is one of the most recognisable architectural symbols of Costa Rica’s capital. The Templo de la Música is an open-air pavilion designed by a French architect who was inspired by France’s Versailles Palace. In the past, the temple hosted high society events and musical shows, however in recent years it has been used by politicians for speech campaigns and the like.
Temple of Music – Templo de la Musica
The National Theatre
In my opinion, this is the grandest neoclassical architectural delight in San Jose. It opened back in 1897 and took a grueling 6 years to build following a number of earthquakes. Today you can see world class ballets, opera and music shows. It’s definitely worth paying a visit inside as well as admiring the exterior. The original statue which was destroyed by torrential weather has been safe-guarded in the lobby and replicas used on the roof.
The National Thetre – Teatro Nacional Costa Rica
Being a cultural hub there are a whole host of museums to chose from in San Jose such as The Jade Museum, the Gold Museum, Jewish Museum, the Peace Museum and so on. All give a great history of Costa Rica, which I feel we as Europeans are not so familiar with. The National Museum of Costa Rica would be the one I would recommend as it tells a fantastic story of the country and its beginnings with interesting artefacts combined.
National Costa Rica Museum
The National Monument
Colonial style buildings
The Telegraph Building
The Telegraph building or Edificio Correos is the San Jose postal building, which was completed in 1917. The centrepeice if the arch which contains the Coat of arms of Costa Rica.
The Telegraph Building
Calle 2 between Avdas 1 and 3
Barrio La Merced
CENTRAL FOOD MARKET TASTING
How could a visit to San Jose be complete without a visit to the central market and some food tasting?!
The Mercado Central is in downtown San Jose and dates back to 1880. The market comprises of veg, meats, seafood and of course the very popular Costa Rican coffee and chocolate. In fact this is one of the best places to buy chocolate coated coffee beans in San Jose. There is the opportunity to go and visit stands, which have been in the same family for decades and the Mercado Central really is a place where all social classes are embraced.
My personal recommendations would be to try some coffee and chocolate obviously but also Tortilla, sorbetera (Ice-cream) and if you’re a seafood fan then Ceviche should be on your list.
Central Market – Mercado Central l
Have you visited the city of San Jose and if so what were your favourite places to visit and foods you tried? Let me know in the comments below.
Read the Final installments of The Pura Vida Series…